June 28, 1965
A colleague of Harvard crew coach Harry Parker's once said, when Parker was late for a race, that "he might have tripped over a duck while walking across the river." Parker, 64, became an inspiring personality in the sport only a short time after he started rowing. He took up the sport as a freshman at Penn, then after graduating in 1957, moved to single sculls in the Navy. He won two U.S. championships and a 1959 Pan American Games gold medal in that discipline and in 1960, after a fifth-place finish at the Rome Olympics, arrived at Harvard to coach freshman crew. In '63 he took over the varsity eights, and from '64 to '68 his crew never lost.
Chalk up the Crimson's continued success under Parker—Harvard has won 142 of 176 regular-season regattas since he took over—to his combination of ingenuity and patience. He was the first U.S. coach to teach his crews to accelerate into the power stroke rather than on the recovery, a technique he learned from watching the Europeans at the 1964 Olympics, and was the first coach to use the ergometer in training.
That Harvard no longer dominates college rowing is also, ironically, a credit to Parker. His success in Cambridge in the 1960s and as coach of the first true U.S. national rowing team—including the silver-medal-winning men's eights at the '72 Olympics—helped popularize the sport, creating more and better squads across the country, both male and female. Parker coached the national women's eights, in '75 and at the '76 Olympics, where they took the bronze. "Those crews helped put women's rowing on the map," he says.
A beneficiary was Parker's wife of 15 years, Kathy Keeler, whom he met at the 1980 pre-Olympic competition. He was a coach of the men's crew, and she was on the women's team. They still enjoy single sculling at their summer hideaway on New Hampshire's Lake Wentworth, with their five-year-old daughter, Abigail. But Parker's real workouts come in-season. He rows in the annual Head of the Charles Regatta and participates in his crew's Newell Triathlon: 7,500 meters on the ergometer, a 4�-mile run along the Charles River to Harvard Stadium, and sprints up and down the steps of each of the stadium's 37 sections. Says Parker, "I wouldn't say I compete, but I don't finish last."
While Parker is proud of what he has accomplished as a coach, he is more pleased with the way his sport has grown. "It was a lot of fun dominating," he says, "but it's healthier to have strong programs across the country."